January 21

A follow up to my legislative kickoff message to VPA members on January 16. The Act 250 legislation has not been introduced as a formal bill yet, but the Commission on Act 250 did provide draft language (appendix 4). On some fronts, VPA recommended further discussion and the Commission went farther to recommend a specific change. As such, we'll need to determine if VPA has a clear position on certain proposed changes. In some cases, we may not, due to a diversity of opinion within the membership and on the Executive Committee.

The Legislative Committee and I will start this discussion at the February 1 kickoff meeting in Waterbury. Feel free to attend! However, depending on how quickly the bill is introduced and taken up by the House Natural Resources Committee, I may need feedback from the Executive Committee prior to our February 15 meeting. I'll keep you posted.

The draft legislation recommended by the Commission on Act 250 is attached for reference. VPA is already on the record in support of some revisions in the draft bill - based on our 11/19/18 recommendations to the Commission. In these cases, minor editing to improve legislation is easy to work on. Examples include:

  • Reinforcing the capability and development plan, and updating related maps showing environmental constraints, existing settlements, designation areas, etc.
  • Extending Act 250 jurisdiction to interstate interchange areas that aren't existing settlement areas.
  • Amending Act 250 criteria to address climate change, energy efficiency, forest fragmentation, habitat connectors/corridors, etc.
  • Exempting some areas from Act 250 jurisdiction based on settlement patterns (existing and planned), adequate municipal land use regulations, and a robust municipal development review regulations and process/staffing.
  • Act 250 jurisdictional release for properties with previously permitted projects that no longer exist.
  • Clarifying review standard for consistency with local and regional plans (criterion 10).

With that said, there are other areas where VPA hasn't made a recommendation or has recommended further discussion prior to legislation. For example:

  • Whether and how to address greenhouse gas emissions in criterion 1.
  • Whether forest blocks should be protected via criteria changes, and if so, what defines a forest block.
  • Reducing the elevation jurisdictional threshold from 2,500 feet to 2,000 feet.
  • Whether to require that regional plans be approved, and by what entity.
  • Shift appeals from the VT Superior Court, Environmental Division back to the previous model - i.e., the Natural Resources Board (renamed the VT Environmental Review Board).

Be thinking about these Act 250 reform issues. I'll follow the normal protocol for clarifying and creating VPA positions on Act 250 bills - i.e., first Legislative Committee discussion followed by Executive Committee review/blessing. However, the timing for this may speed up depending on what happens in Montpelier. Reminder - we don't have to make recommendations on all aspects of the legislation.

For more information contact Alex Weinhagen, VPA Legislative Liaison